Pain Control

Pain can be a major problem for people with some forms of cancer. Pain is not typical of all kinds of cancer. Some cancers, depending on their type or location, cause little or no pain at all. Today, most cancer pain can be controlled because of the advances made in understanding what causes pain and how to treat it.

People with cancer can experience pain at any point during the illness. Pain can result from aggressive, curative cancer treatment such as nerve damage following surgery. Pain Control clinics treat this kind of pain. People with advanced illness can experience pain due to the spread of disease to other parts of the body, such as spread of the cancer to bones. Pain is not something you must "learn to live with." Pain must be treated because it interferes with every part of a person's life. Don't accept pain as a "way of life" because you have cancer. Be assured that it can be managed with help from knowledgeable health care professionals.

Many myths about pain still exist. The most troubling one is that too much medication will cause addiction Research has shown this to be completely false. Addiction is a psychological or emotional dependence on feeling "high". People with cancer do not take drugs to get "high" but to relieve their pain. When the proper dosage of medication is taken around the clock, addiction does not occur. People with cancer can take pain medications indefinitely, if properly used, without concern that they will become addicted.

People also worry that if they take their medications continuously, they will become "immune" to that dosage and need higher dosages until no dosage will work. There is no such thing as "running out" of pain medicine. Pain management and hospice teams are experts in pain control. They will work with you to find the right treatment or combination of medications to keep you pain-free and alert so that you can participate in life.

Describing pain in detail to your doctor or nurse will help them decide the best way to treat your pain. Try to use descriptive words such as sharp burning, dull or aching. It may also be helpful to keep a diary of your pain so that you can describe what makes the pain better or worse.


  1. Provide outpatient or home evaluation and treatment with pills, liquid medications, and/or intravenous infusion with the assistance of a portable pump. Keeping pain continuously under control is important. If people "hold off" on their medications, the pain will return. Then the pain may be harder to control with the next dose of medication.

  2. Prescribe brief hospitalization in cases of severe or poorly managed pain so that treatments can be evaluated and the best method of control determined.

  3. Offer nerve blocks and surgical procedures, in certain cases, to provide permanent relief from pain.

  4. Provide counseling to help you cope with the problems of pain.


  1. Because pain has been such a problem in the past for people with cancer, it has become an area of great interest and the subject of research studies for many doctors and nurses. Specialists in pain control are doctors who have advanced training in this field. If your doctor is unable to refer you to a specialist in pain management, call the Cancer Information Service (1-800-4-CANCER). Living with uncontrolled pain will make it very difficult for you to cope with day-to-day living.

  2. If you have been referred to a hospice program, you can expect the doctors and nurses to provide pain control. If you are not participating in a hospice program, talk to the doctor who is treating you for your cancer. If your doctor has been unable to control your pain, ask to be referred to a specialist in pain management or to a Pain clinic.


  • Sometimes doctors have the same misconceptions about pain as the general public. They may not be aware of the advances made in this field, or they may be reluctant to experiment with medications and the dosages necessary to control the pain. Most doctors are as anxious as you are for you to be comfortable and free from pain; people become doctors to relieve suffering. If you need a specialist to control your pain, ask for a referral.

  • Family members sometimes worry that the patient will "overdose" on their medications or that medications given through injections will cause a coma or death. The goal of good pain management is to relieve suffering. Pain management programs or hospice programs will teach you and your family about the proper amount of medication that will give you relief without any danger of harm.

  • For more information about pain, call your local American Cancer Society and ask for its booklet, "Questions and Answers About Pain Control."


The Art of Healing
by Fern Nibauer-Cohen
February 01, 2016